The Moral Compass
Written by Mark Lew & Hank Eder
As the Civil War winds down, a renowned Milledgeville, Georgia judge, Winston Calhoun, is asked by his friends to find a safe haven for what is left of their valuables, lest the Yankees ransack the town and steal them. He is handed a journal penned by each of his friends identifying the boxes they deposited in the valise which they wish to pass onto him. He accedes, with the caveat that he be held harmless of future events concerning their valuables. Late that night, he takes the valise to his trusted friend, Dr. Green, who runs the Milledgeville State Hospital, a sanitarium. In previous engagements, Dr. Green had sequestered runaway slaves there at Winston’s behest knowing the authorities would never search that place.
When he returns home, Judge Calhoun writes a cryptic verse in the journal regarding the valuables’ location and shows it to his teenaged son, Paul, in case the forthcoming Union occupation brings casualty. When the army arrives that afternoon, the soldiers gather around the penitentiary, intent on burning it down. The judge stands before the commander of the Union troops and opposes their action. The commander explains that his orders are to burn the place down, and no one is going to stop him. Judge Calhoun continues to resist and so is killed. The penitentiary is set ablaze.
Paul witnesses his father’s casual murder and decides to forego civilization. He clutches the journal to his heart and becomes a vagabond. Years later, he emerges in Savannah, emaciated and filthy. He falls in the street near a policeman, awakening later in Candler Hospital in the care of Marsha Levine, a nurse with deep-rooted mental issues. Until meeting Paul, Marsha had thought herself relegated to spinsterhood. Even as he lay in bed unconscious, she imagines plans for the both of them. When he recuperates, she offers him residence in her apartment. He accepts.
Upon release from the hospital, he queries about the journal’s whereabouts, but Marsha denies ever having seen a journal. He is distraught, intent on locating it, honoring the pledge to his father to safeguard it. After fruitless attempts, he resigns himself to his failure. Paul and Marsha marry. They have a daughter, Millicent, and a son, Rudy.
A fire near their residence leaves Rudy in critical condition with pulmonary infection. Paul renews his efforts to find the journal and claim the reward for returning the contents to their rightful owners so he can provide treatment for his son’s condition. He plots a kidnap of the policeman who brought him to the hospital. Marsha says any effort along those lines will prove fruitless, finally admitting her possession of it. Desperate to save his son, he begs her reveal its location. She refuses, saying that she is even more desperate to save their marriage and fears this journal will cause a schism in it. His rage is unleashed until she complies and so she removes the journal from its hiding place and drops it to the floor. As he bends to pick it up, she sticks a knife in his back. Millicent witnesses the event.
Marsha is adjudged not guilty of murder, but is sentenced to live out her life in a mental hospital, leaving Millicent to bury her younger brother alone. Journal in hand, Millicent plans the recovery of the buried treasure, marrying a man in Statesboro and choosing Milledgeville as her honeymoon destination. She feels deserving of what treasures lay inside, having witnessed the horror of the murder on account of it. Others, however, have designs on the same treasure and she is covertly followed.
The verse that Winston had penned years before leads Millicent to understand where the treasure is hidden. At last unearthed, Millicent discovers that all the valuables are missing, leaving only documents inside the valise. Her disappointment is short-lived when she reads one of the documents and discovers that, had her grandfather been less honorable in honoring his friends’ wishes, had he had a less rigid moral compass, the Lincoln conspiracy would have been brought to light and he would not have been assassinated. History could have been rewritten.